MEDWAY, MA -- Cybex Chairman and CEO John Aglialoro sent a letter to shareholders on Dec. 13 vowing to fight a jury verdict in which Cybex was ordered to pay 75 percent of a $66 million award. In the letter, Aglialoro denies that the company is culpable in the 2004 accident in which a 25-year-old leg extension machine made by Cybex fell on a woman, Natalie Barnhard, causing her to become a quadriplegic.
Algialoro wrote: “It is difficult to express the sense of injustice that management and employees of our company feel about the unfairness of this award and the strength of our belief that this accident was not the fault of our equipment. The trial is one more example of a tort system run amok and why more and more U.S. manufacturers find it difficult to operate in the U.S. Cybex makes products exclusively in the USA and has close to 600 American employees. We intend to exercise all legal remedies to get the verdict overturned.”
James H. Moss, an attorney specializing in recreation law and editor of Outdoor Recreation & Fitness Law Review, agrees that the verdict amount is high.
“$66 million is excessive for a jury in this type of case,” he says. “Normal range is $5 million to $15 million.”
Aglialoro wrote in the letter that the machine weighed about 600 pounds, and, if used properly, it is physically impossible to tip over.
“The plaintiff clearly understood how to use a leg extension as she was an employee in the facility where the accident occurred,” Aglialoro wrote. “This is not a design flaw—it is a terribly unfortunate result of the plaintiff’s decision to use the leg extension in a manner which is still not clear and which had the disastrous result for which all of us feel great sympathy. The fact remains that this was not faulty equipment and not the responsibility of Cybex.”
Aglialoro took issue with the high amount of the jury award. He also wrote that the trial was flawed from the beginning because the judge allowed the plaintiff to use as counsel a firm that had represented Cybex in the past and because the judge excluded testimony from the only eyewitness.
“We intend to continue to defend ourselves vigorously,” Aglialoro wrote. “Looking forward, we have faith that our post-trial motions and appeals will result in a reduction or reversal of the verdict.”
He concluded by writing, “It is important to me and the entire Cybex management team that the truth be told and that our shareholders know that their company is reputable and honest in its dealings and that our fitness products are the finest in the world—safe and effective. To Ms. Barnhard, we express great sympathy and admire her courage in dealing with the tragedy that resulted from her accident. But it was an accident—not a Cybex product that was at fault.”
Moss says that if Cybex does not win its appeal, bankruptcy is a possibility for the company.
“No one has that amount of insurance,” he says.